Counter Offer


Counter Offer


It was 10 a.m., and Mitch Lowell’s calendar was empty for the next two hours. It was a fact; the hole was right there in Microsoft Outlook. He leaned forward in his chair, all coiled energy. Sometimes the scheduling fates were kind, and he got some time to himself. Today, that meant a trip to Nordstrom’s. For something.

           That reminded him. Mitch needed to tell his assistant Edgar to stop filling his days with wall-to-wall appointments. Didn’t he know the CEO of a hot ticket company like Adorenation required recovery time between all the glad-handing and PowerPointing? Actually, Edgar wasn’t to blame for the overcrowded schedule. No, it was Mitch’s old-fashioned hubris that drove him to appear at every trade show, GeekWire party, exhibit opening.

            Mitch’s office was light on furnishings. “IKEA-Zen,” Fast Company had called it in a recent profile. It was a space for deep thinking, where he could pop CBD gummies and hatch market-disrupting ideas. On adjacent walls were paintings by Marlon Hayworth and Xiu Ying Wang. And unlike some executives in the building, none of Mitch’s pieces were on loan. He was into collecting, not generic staging.

            On his desk was a flute-like Malaysian instrument called a Shehnai, part of a budding fascination with exotic musical instruments. Mitch liked to tell visitors it was for charming visiting software industry snakes. Today, he ran an index finger along its cool wooden surface and pressed the landline speaker button with the other hand. “Edgar,” Mitch spoke into the air, “I’m heading out for a few.”

            “I’ll keep all your calls at bay. Need anything else?” replied a bright, compliant voice.                       "No, I’m all set, Ed” he replied. The nickname was new—a chummy display he’d been trying out the last few weeks.

            Although Edgar had been working at Adorenation for two years, Mitch knew very few details about the guy beyond a penchant for quirky bowties and a boyfriend who worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But Edgar instinctively understood his boss’s moods and predilections, the bedrock of an exceptional executive assistant. Mitch felt cared for by him. He’d never admit that this sense of security had anything to do with Edgar’s sexuality but it did.

            Mitch pushed open the lobby doors and sucked in some brisk, briny air. It was important to get outside. The Adorenation office was fun—video games, artisan coffee—but no matter how many fancy distractions, work was still work.

           In the window of Cherry Street Cafe, Mitch glimpsed his reflection and felt a familiar dissatisfaction. Mitch hit five feet nine inches in 7th grade and, despite prayers and parent promises, never grew past that height. His plain face, the result of generations of Caucasian interbreeding, boasted no distinguishing features. Mitch learned early to use the only thing about him that was above average: his mind.

           It was only two blocks to the Art Deco building that housed Nordstrom’s flagship store and corporate office. While the Pacific Ocean was invisible from this stretch of downtown, Mitch still liked to think of himself as part of Seattle’s maritime history. Minutes away, fishmongers tossed salmon at Pike Place Market—just like in the movies.

           He pushed open Nordstrom’s doors and sauntered over to the watch counter. Tracing the glass, he paused at a few midrange pieces—Michael Kors, Fitbit—then kneeled to inspect the Movados and Guccis. He could afford any of them. As a youngish CEO at a buzzing startup, he knew it was accessories that separated him from his staff. More than indulgence, a watch was a status-definer.        

           “What about this one?” asked a tall brunette with artfully frizzy hair and a septum piercing. She tapped above a silver Tissot in the $300 range.

            The brunette’s nametag read Sophia, and she and the watch both filled Mitch with a sense of irrational possessiveness. The same covetousness had followed him since childhood when he first discovered how good it felt to collect, discard, and control—not always in that order.

            His appetite for accumulation began with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys, moved onto snowboarding gear, and by senior year of high school had advanced to pricey sports photography coffee table books. Mitch displayed these prized belongings with a connoisseur’s reverence.

            His two older sisters were the adventurous ones: tie-died clothing that reeked of weed, trips to Europe, and yearly pilgrimages to the Gorge Amphitheater to see Dave Matthews Band. He stuck close to home in Redmond, stacking internships, honing his coding chops, and saving money from his job bagging at Whole Foods. It’s not that he lacked buddies or girlfriends, but Mitch’s hobbies and ambitions formed the center of his life.

         So, no, fashion wasn’t what brought him to Nordstrom’s watch counter—Mitch was happy to stick to his Seattle uniform of REI-outerwear and jeans—it was the challenge. Getting a girl like Sophia to notice him was like claiming the CEO position from the board. Two years ago, he’d wrenched success from the hands of the other candidates, lack of height and average looks be damned. Mitch knew how to talk until he made people believe, and he believed he could do that with Sophia.

           “I like it,” Mitch said. “It’s subtle, right?”

            “Totally subtle.”

            Mitch knew she was only parroting, a classic sales trick. He’d have to try a little harder. “Do you think it would be good for a gala?”

            “Oh definitely,” Sophia nodded three times while keeping her eyes locked on Mitch, then crossed her arms and placed a leg in front of the other. “It’s lowkey but will pair well with a formal suit. That watch will pop, is what I mean.”

             “I guess I’ll take it.”

            “Good choice. I’ll wrap it up.” Sophia brushed a falling curl from her forehead and placed the watch in its elaborate home: an orange and black box that opened into something that looked like a miniature couch, complete with a pillow.

            She set the item in the container using the talon tips of her index fingers, each lavender nail crowned by a mandala design. Mitch wasn’t familiar with the look, but he’d long relegated himself to the sidelines of style.

            Mitch locked eyes with Sophia. “When’s your lunch break? I’d love to grab some food if you’re into it.”

            “Debit or credit?” she asked, avoiding Mitch’s stare.

            “Credit. Here you go,” Mitch replied. In a smooth movement, he extracted the Amex card from his Fendi wallet and flicked it onto the glass.

            “Wonderful. Let me just run your card—”

            “I’m serious,” Mitch said, pressing on. “Let’s grab a coffee.”

            She swiped the plastic and briefly met his eyes. “And you are?”

            “Mitch Lowell. I’m the CEO of Adorenation.” He placed both hands in his pockets and pushed himself up in his sneakers, adding a few inches. “We just went public.”

            Sophia slid the machine over to him.

            He had to try something else. “Also,” Mitch laughed, “I have 45,000 Twitter followers.”

            “I don’t use Twitter anymore, but I’m on Adorenation,” she said. “You own the company? That’s pretty cool.”

             “Well, I don’t own it, but the app was my idea.” Were her eyes twinkling a little? Sophia’s makeup was thick, like a mask, which made her expression difficult to read.

            “You know what?” Mitch said. “I’ll wear it out.” He popped open the box and removed the Tissot from its resting place. The watch left a lonely indentation in the cushion.

            “Very cool,” Sophia said, nudging the now-empty container the few inches between them. She used both hands to puff out her curls. “CEO of Adorenation. Nice.”

            Mitch slid the Tisson over his wrist and adjusted its band, maintaining eye contact. “Sophia,” he began, “I get that you can’t take a break right now, but would you mind if I asked for your phone number?” He wrinkled his forehead, a docile display he’d learned which differentiated him from meathead pickup artists at college parties

            A moment passed before Sophia smiled. “That’s fine,” she said, looking to both sides before producing a Nordstrom’s-branded notepad. She wrote out her first name, followed by a pair of dainty parentheses, a 206 area code, and seven other digits.

            “Here you go.” She passed the paper to him.

           His sisters always mocked Mitch for his “nonexistent game,” and he’d let their opinions stain his self-image. If they could see him now. “I’ll text you mine when I get back to the office.”

            Sophia gave a little smile. “Or you could just add me to your Adorenation deck,” she said, referencing the virtual little black book that was the app’s most popular feature.

            “I’ll do both,” Mitch said and pocketed the note.

            He exited the store and walked into classic Seattle drizzle. As he started his stroll, Mitch rolled up his sweatshirt sleeve and scrutinized the Tisson’s slim hands and minimalist design. Hopefully, the thing wasn’t too subtle.

            Upon his return, Edgar greeted Mitch with a smile. “You couldn’t stay away from us, could you?” He leaned over his desk. “Nice watch, but don’t you have three exactly like it?”

            “I have a few,” Mitch replied.

            “A few?”

            He wasn’t thrilled with Ed’s tone. “Can you pull the info for the new Biz Dev hires? I need to give the ‘Welcome to Adorenation’ spiel this afternoon.”

            Intuitive boy that he was, Edgar seemed to understand their conversation was done and focused on his computer screen. “I’ll shoot that over to you right away,” he said, typing up a storm.

            Back in his ergonomic desk chair, tablet in front of him, Mitch pulled out Sophia’s carefully creased note. Ten digits and the name of a Nordstrom’s counter girl who was utterly, objectively, out of his league, at least in terms of looks. He’d used every trick in his playbook to obtain the number: high-limit credit card, CEO title dropping, toxic male pushiness. All the effort made the next part more satisfying.

            He reached around the desk and fed the paper into a waiting shredder. Mitch watched the machine chomped clamorously on Sophia’s deets. The sacrifice was imperative, like feeding the dragon.

            As the shredder gobbled away, Mitch thought about how he abhorred every aspect of dating save for one: the hunt. It wouldn’t take a therapist long to deduce why he’d invented Adorenation, an app that gamified the whole imbecilic ritual.

            But Mitch didn’t enjoy analyzing his desires. He’d leave that to the journalists who pestered him for interviews and published think pieces about him in the industry rags, to the string of exes who complained about how quickly Mitch Lowell lost interest, to his two sisters who chastised him for not settling down but fetishized his single urban lifestyle.

            No, none of them needed to understand, like, even accept, the way he insatiably craved more for more’s sake. That childhood was Mitch’s personal business, and by the looks of the NASDAQ exchange, business was good.


Ari Rosenschein

 Ari Rosenschein is a Seattle-based writer whose essays and fiction appear in Entropy, Noisey, Drunk Monkeys, Roland Articles, Observer, KEXP.ORGThe Big Takeover, The Bookends Review, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch Los Angeles. A lifelong musician, Ari currently records and performs with his bands The Royal Oui and STAHV. He lives with his wife and dogs and enjoys the woods, the rain, and the coffee of his chosen region. Coasting (Magnolia Press) is his debut collection.

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